This article was originally published in November. After St Pauli eliminated Borussia Dortmund from the DFB Pokal, KEEPUP revisits Jackson Irvine’s relationship with the iconic German club.
It was a famous night for Jackson Irvine and St Pauli, who upstaged a Borussia Dortmund side boasting Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham and Marco Reus.
Not since 1989 had St Pauli conquered Dortmund, but that changed on Tuesday night in Hamburg, where Socceroos midfielder and former Melbourne Victory youth player Irvine played the entire game and helped Timo Schultz’s men book their spot in the quarter-finals of the German competition.
It tells you a lot about Irvine that after each game at St Pauli’s Millerntor stadium, he walks home to his apartment in Hamburg’s Sternschanze district.
In among the fans, there’s no hiding away as they dissect the game and the players’ performances.
But then the Socceroo midfielder wouldn’t have it any other way, soaking up the history and culture of his new club – and city – while the team sits at top of the Bundesliga 2, set fair for promotion to the Bundesliga itself.
“The fans and the people who I’ve met through St. Pauli really do have a kind of unique perspective on footballers,” Irvine says. “It’s hard to put into words, but it is a really unique thing that I haven’t experienced at any other club.”
Maybe that explains why Irvine feels at the top of his game. You can hear in his voice how setting up home in the hipster streets of Hamburg is making a footballer with an already broad perspective on life pretty happy.
But it also says a lot about Irvine that supporters at all his clubs have taken a shine to his work ethic and enthusiasm for a challenge.
“I guess my style of play resonates with fans in some ways, they want to see players who play with their heart on their sleeve. I’m an emotional person in a lot of ways, I’m very passionate about what I do.
“When I go to a club, or when I’m part of a community, I try to fully immerse myself in it and represent that club and the fans.
“At the end of the day, they want to see quality and they want to see results. But I think as a baseline, that’s what they want to see from their players.”
That’s why, in the midst of a full-bore FA Cup tie at Stamford Bridge in 2018, Hull City fans were blasting out the Neil Diamond song Sweet Caroline, with the title line converted to “Jackson Irvine, na na na…”
It’s why at Scottish Championship side Kilmarnock, even while Jackson was enduring what he terms the toughest spell of his career, the Killie fans were adapting Human League’s Don’t You Want Me Baby to sing his name at full volume.
It’s why his name still has cult status at Ross County, after helping the club to win the Scottish League Cup in 2016, its first ever major trophy. And it’s why, as Irvine revealed in a recent column for the PFA, the St Pauli fans like to stop him in the street and discuss his Spotify playlists.
“Living in that community up north (at Ross County), myself and the players that were there at the time, we absolutely loved it,” he says. “We had such a good relationship with the club and the fans. What we did up there, you know, was pretty special.”
The songs the fans sing are absolutely part of that engagement. “The Don’t You Want Me Baby one actually carried on to Ross County and then on again to Burton Albion,” he says.
“Then Sweet Caroline was just so original, so imaginative. Hearing that ring out somewhere like Stamford Bridge was… well, you don’t get too many moments like that in your career.”
The fact that Irvine’s first taste of fan culture came at Celtic, as a teenager fresh out of Victoria, informs his appreciation of why the supporters matter so much.
“It is fan culture, but it’s really like a part of people’s identity, the club is part of who they are,” he says. “For me it was probably the biggest baptism of fire you could ever kind of imagine. Until you start going to games and living in the city and understanding what it means to be at that club… about six months after I joined I played in the Youth Cup final for the U19s and about 10,000-12,000 people from Celtic and Rangers showed up to watch.”
Now at St Pauli, in a city full of artistic culture, he’s very much at home with supporters who across the league, he says, focus more on the team than individuals.
“It’s definitely more of a community feel,” he says. “I think I’ve really tried to integrate myself quickly into the area.
“We’re in an age now where social media engagement is very high and that’s kind of where fans and players probably link together the most.
“But it’s quite different in St. Pauli, and where I live, quite a unique community feel. Everything’s gravy when you’re winning every week, of course, and the kind of period of success we’re having at the moment has been a perfect time for me to settle into the club because everybody’s obviously in such high spirits.
“But just being out and about in the city, and the way the fans approach you, it’s definitely been something that in a lot of other places, cities and clubs I’ve played for, that you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing.
“It just wasn’t the done thing. At St Pauli, that level of engagement on the day to day, it’s far more common.”